A Holt adoptee pursues her love of dance at Juilliard in New York.
Auditioning for The Juilliard School’s dance program was just supposed to be fun. Why not, 18-year-old Melissa Anderson thought. It would be a good learning experience, since the odds of making it were against her. After all, Juilliard’s acceptance rate for new students is just 8 percent, more competitive than Harvard. Regardless, Melissa already had a small legion of schools ready to welcome her into their dance programs with open arms. Nothing to lose — and someday, she could say she tried.
Even after making it into the final round in February, Melissa didn’t let her hopes rise too high. After school one afternoon in early April, she pulled out her cell phone — one missed call, one message. A voice from Julliard’s admissions office asked her to call back, and she rushed inside to the landline.
With her dad by her side, Melissa dialed the number.
When the message registered that she’d been accepted — one of 24 in the 2018 class of dancers at Juilliard — she just gasped.
“I thought I’d cry,” Melissa says. “I didn’t. I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there.”
She hung up the phone, hugged her dad and called her mom at work. Even her 15-year-old brother was impressed. Soon, Melissa reached near celebrity status at the studio where she’d been a dancer most of her life — The Ballet Academy of Texas Coppell, where she spends 20-30 hours per week.
Melissa says it’s nice to feel so celebrated. For years, Melissa says, she struggled with confidence — feeling weird and different among her friends, failing to see how her talent set her apart in a good way.
“Where I lived in Texas, I was constantly surrounded by people who knew how to act,” Melissa says. “Even as a kid, I felt like I was just eccentric. I was a weird kid. I’m still weird.”
And, at first, Melissa hated ballet, which she started studying when she was 5.
“I was the kid who couldn’t sit down. I’m always full of energy,” Melissa says. “But I wasn’t great at ballet at first, and here I was, this crazy kid, surrounded by all these poised people.”
Slowly, Melissa fell for the art — and it helped her grow into the person she is today.
Through dance, Melissa grew more comfortable in her own skin. Being adopted made her more confident as well, she says — especially at times when she felt ordinary among her classmates.
“I’m really open about my adoption,” Melissa says.
From the beginning, Melissa’s parents were also open about her adoption. Melissa joined her family from the Philippines as an infant. As her adoptive mother is also Filipino, Melissa had something not many other international adoptees have: she somewhat resembled her family. But she’s always known she was adopted.
Her parents also adopted her younger brother from the Philippines. “My parents used to read me this book called ‘Happy Adoption Life’ to help me understand what adoption meant,” she says. “It helped that my brother is adopted too.”
Through the support of her family and her passion for dance, Melissa says she finally grew to love herself and all the traits that make her unique.
“In dance, you are very vulnerable,” Melissa says. “You’re giving yourself up for the art form. But that helped me. I finally got tired of worrying about what people thought of me. I got tired of molding myself into someone else. I finally chose to just be my quirky self, and I found friends who accepted me.”
In late August, Melissa will start a new chapter at Juilliard in New York. She’s excited to experience the city, a new culture and a new environment.
She knows that when she misses home, she’ll always have the thing she loves most.
“I’ll always have my family,” Melissa says. “My life is a blessing.”
Billie Loewen | Staff Writer